Although I’d been a believer for a number of years, I knew my life didn’t measure up to what I believed it should as a christian and, to be honest, I didn’t see that anyone else around me was doing any better. Toward the end of 1997, my desire to know God more intimately increased and I began praying what I’ve since come to realize is a dangerous prayer. I told him daily, several times a day, that I wanted to know him. Well, he took me at my word but, if I had known what was ahead, I don’t know that I would have prayed that prayer.
A few months later, he led me to a church that later became abusive. I stayed there over three years and those were the most difficult three years of my life but it was there that God began the process of setting me free from the need for people's approval.
As with all spiritually abusive leaders, the pastor of that church preferred new and inexperienced believers. Since I had been a believer for over 20 years, it was obvious that I was being pushed aside in preference to the younger believers. I even once told him that I felt like I wasn’t wanted there. Of course, he denied it but I knew it was true. The young and inexperienced were definitely preferred over those of us who were more mature and seasoned in our faith.
I struggled to gain this pastor’s approval and I remember thinking that there was nothing I could do to please him. For someone who thrived on the approval of others, that was tortuous. I hated it there and decided to leave several times but each time, God made it very clear that he wanted me to stay. It was only years later that I understood why it was important for me to stay. He wasn’t punishing me as I thought at the time but he was setting me free in ways that I couldn’t even imagine at the time.
After I left, I found Wayne Jacobsen’s Lifestream website and later Darin Hufford’s Free Believers Network. I devoured their teachings and, as a result, I finally understood the bondage I had been in and how God had been setting me free through what he allowed me to experience.
I also learned that I have a Father who loves me too much to let me stay in bondage. My freedom began with a lot of pain as I struggled to make sense of why he put me in an abusive church. Now, I look back on those days and think that knowing what I know now, if I had to do it over again, I would. I sure wouldn’t enjoy the suffering I went through but sometimes to effect a cure, a surgeon has to cut out the sick parts and that’s always painful. However, when the healing is complete, the results are worth it.
For me, this was the start of a very exciting journey and it has been a journey. I haven’t arrived yet and, at times, I still find myself reveling in the praise of man and looking for it. I still struggle at times when family members give me patronizing looks that seem to say that they’re being patient with me but I’ve also learned to laugh at myself when I act like my elevator doesn’t go up all the way.
I’m learning that it’s okay to be me. God created me and gave me my unique personality and he’s pleased with me just the way I am. If there’s any changing to be done, he’ll do it in his own time and in his own way. I’m not supposed to get stressed about it and spend a lot of effort trying to change what I view as faults. I just need to spend my time getting to know him and, through that relationship, he will change what needs to be changed in me.